The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 17, Number 6
Nov 1993


Henry Wilhelm with Carol Brower, contributing author, The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs: Traditional and Digital Color Prints, Color Negatives, Slides, and Motion Pictures. Grinnell, Iowa: Preservation Publishing Company, 1993. ISBN: 0-911515-00-3. (744 pp) $69.95.

Reviewed by M. Susan Barger

Dr. Barger is at the University of New Mexico's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, in Albuquerque, NM 87131. She is perhaps best known for her research on daguerreotypes.

Nineteen years ago, when I was a graduate student in photographic science, a small group of us put in our order for a dozen copies of Henry Wilhelm's upcoming book on the stability of color photographs. At the prepublication price of around $2.00, how could we go wrong?

There is no question that Henry Wilhelm is largely responsible for initiating the rising consciousness of the importance of photographic image stability that we have seen over the last twenty-five years. Many of us still have yellowing copies of his first book, Procedures for Processing and Storing Black and White Photographs for Maximum Possible Permanence, which was first published in 1969. It was printed on newsprint and sold for the grand sum of 50¢. That small book is, as far as I have been able to tell, the first publication for a lay audience that directly addressed photographic processing for maximum permanence. There are older publications on good processing practice, but none of them ties processing to image permanence in such a direct way.

Anyone who has been paying attention to photography during the last twenty-five years knows that, in many ways, Henry Wilhelm has been the David to the photo industry's Goliath. Tweaks from Wilhelm's direction have pushed the photo industry to address the problem of image stability, particularly color image stability, in a much more public and active way than they had done previously.

Indeed, the Image Permanence Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology was established by the Society of Photographic Scientists and Engineers and members of the photo industry partly because of concerns raised by Wilhelm about industrial bias and secrecy. Thus, the Institute, as a nonindustrial center, would address issues of photographic image stability. Further, because Wilhelm was working away in Grinnell, Iowa on color stability, those working in other areas of photographic conservation were able to say with some authority that although color was an almost insurmountable problem, the information that curators, collectors, and archivists needed in order to care for these ephemeral objects would finally be available when Wilhelm's book was published. The book was coming any minute.

Long ago, we gave up waiting for the book, but I was very pleased to see that this past fall Wilhelm's great work was finally published. The question that needs to be asked here is, "Was it worth the wait?"

The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs is full of information, much of which has never been available or has never been gathered together in one place. The research described in the book is ongoing and the results are current to the end of 1992, the time the book went to press. For those that find the book overwhelming, it is possible to get the "take-home message" by reading just the Recommendations found in most of the chapters. The items that have grabbed the most press attention in the wake of the book's appearance are from the list in Chapter 1 of recommended products for obtaining the most stable photographic images. Wilhelm names names and spares no company in his critical evaluations of the stability of various color photographic products. While he may seem heavy-handed towards Kodak, this probably has more to do with the dominant market position that Kodak has enjoyed, especially in the United States. There is also a measure of glee that we take when the veil of industrial secrecy is pierced and we see that an industrial giant did not always operate in the most honest way. For instance, in his history of modern color imaging materials (i.e., Kodachrome® and subsequent products), Wilhelm points out that Kodak has issued products knowing that they were not stable and has deliberately replaced more stable products with less stable products. The situation was amplified by advertising rhetoric that calls us to preserve our precious moments on film. Several chapters, especially the one on wedding and portrait photographers, point out the often poignant and tragic loss that occurs when photographic images have faded away. This loss is emphasized in many of the illustrations throughout the book.

If the reader is interested in how Wilhelm arrived at his product recommendations, the first third of the book provides detailed descriptions of his tests and testing procedures. I found the delineation of his approach to testing imaging stability absorbing and quite pertinent to both the common use of photographs and to how we see. The section on accelerated aging procedures for color materials is very detailed and brings up issues that should be considered by anyone who uses accelerated aging testing for any type of materials. Wilhelm provides a good history of image stability testing and carefully describes the contributions made by the entire photo industry, especially Kodak, in this area.

There are two chapters devoted to the color films used in the motion picture industry. This includes recommendations for preserving what is now in archives and describes the best available current products for the production of new films. One entire chapter is devoted to Technicolor®, its history and properties.

Finally, the last ten chapters of the book are devoted to the care, storage, and display not only of color photographic materials of all types, but also of black and white materials. There are lengthy discussions of adhesives and mounting, marking methods, conservation matting, mat boards, storage envelopes, sleeves, boxes, and the like. This portion of the book brings together much of the work on the care and conservation of photographic materials which has evolved over the last twenty-five years and puts it in one place for the reader.

This book, in spite of its mostly positive qualities, should have been edited for continuity. The book was obviously written at different times, because much of the same information is repeated over and over again in the various sections. As persistent readers approach the back of the book, they may become confused and think they are reading some previous section. A good editor could have made the book more compact and easier to read and would have enhanced access to the valuable information and message that this book carries. I was also struck by a comment made by a photo curator when I said I was writing a review of this book. He said that the book looked so much like a chemistry text that although it is a "must-have" addition to any photo library, it was probably too difficult for him to attempt to read. This is not a chemistry book, for there is little or no information that could be called chemistry. Despite its appearance and technical content, this book can be profitably read by anyone with an interest in photographic preservation.

This book will not be widely available through your local bookstore, so those interested in purchasing it should contact the publisher directly. The address is: Preservation Publishing Co., 719 State St., Grinnell, Iowa 50112-0567. The cost is $69.95 per copy plus $4.95 shipping.

CALIPR: An Automated Tool to Assess Preservation Needs of Book and Document Collections for Institutional or Statewide Planning. California State Library, Sacramento: September 1991. Prepared by Barclay Ogden and Maralyn Jones.

Reviewed by Pat Morris
South Carolina Department of Archives & History,
Columbia, SC 29211-1669.

This tool is designed to assess the preservation needs and priorities of a library collection based on a random sample. It can provide useful information, but there is one stumbling block--setting up the random sample of at least 100 titles. "Random sampling requires that every item (book/document/ film) in the collection have an equal probability of selection into the sample in order to avoid systematically including or excluding parts of the collection about which information is sought"(p. 10). Two articles are cited, directing one on the selection of random samples, but they are so outdated (1966 and 1969) that they are not helpful. The techniques outlined are applicable only if the library has a complete shelf list on cards. Unless your online catalog has a package to select random samples, your institution's programmer will have to write one or find a software package for you.

When testing the survey instrument at the State Library, where the collection is cataloged on line, there was no complete card shelf list, and the technology experts could not write a program to create a random sample. We were forced to make choices "from the stacks." Although this did not provide a truly random sample in the statistical sense, this library does not have a high circulation rate, and we felt it would be representative.

The data entry process was quick and relatively simple, but it could be shortened if the work was done by or in close consultation with a bibliographer. While data fields are available for all the bibliographic information on each title, one only needs to enter the call number. The other data is necessary only if the bibliographer has to review the titles to identify those essential to the collection. Following the bibliographic information are a list of questions related to preservation, user rate, and replacement choices.

Since the questions related to preservation are so simple and so fully explained in the manual, this tool might best serve the small institution where the bibliographer would also be doing the preservation assessment. Someone who knows whether a book would be replaced if it were lost or damaged would read the instructions provided, and answer all the preservation questions easily. In a larger institution with adequate clerical support, the bibliographic data would be entered by a technician who had some training in preservation. The bibliographer would then have to review the list and indicate which books had to be replaced. In my case, I was given a rule of thumb: no books would be purchased again, but I consulted with the government documents librarian on the state documents included in the sample.

The reports produced are simple and relatively direct. They list the number of volumes grouped according to the "treatment" recommendations necessary for their preservation. These options include "staff and user education," "replace/reformat," "protective enclosure," and so on through "disaster plan" and "environmental control." The recommendations are laid out in descending order. Reports can be separated by user rates and intrinsic value of the books, which could prove very useful in a larger sample.

If you can solve the problem of obtaining a random sample, and if you are working closely with a bibliographer, it's wiser to take a larger sample (400 is recommended for an internal study).

Unfortunately, the documentation does not include a select bibliography on preservation information, which would give the user direction for further action.

CALIPR can be most useful to the small public library with a general circulating collection supported by a basic reference collection. Large special collections have so many special needs that they probably should be considered in separate samples.

The price of $32.50 is certainly affordable, and the recommendations are so basic that they cannot lead to further damage to the collections.

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